The Rod of Seven Parts
13th Age is a descendant of the d20 family of games. It’s probably easiest to think of it as somewhere between 3.x and 4e, but I tend to see a lot of 2e in it too. No doubt, everyone will come up with their own ideas about the game and it’s pedigree, but I’ll go ahead and explain my thoughts on it here.
It gets its basic shape and form (six ability scores, race, class, AC, HP, rolling d20s to hit) from D&D in general. It gets a lot of the specifics that form the backbone of the game (ascending AC and accuracy, a lot of the spell casting, the general “feel” of the classes) from 3.×. It uses a lot of the improvements and innovations of 4e, though a lot of the time they’re treated differently (“powers” are used differently by different classes, each class has their own pacing/healing resources, but some healing bypasses it entirely and miraculously). And finally, thanks to a lot of the story-focused mechanics, the game has a focus on being a part of the world that I feel like I haven’t seen since 2e, back in the heyday of the campaign setting and box set.
I really feel like there’s something here for everyone… well, everyone who’s ever loved D&D. Well, at least any of the D&D that I’ve ever loved.
Ahem. Anyway, there’s a few things that are, perhaps, alarmingly different at first. I’ll gloss over a few of the basic stuff, then highlight the big points later on.
The game only has 10 levels, rather than 20 or 30.
There’s no XP. Characters level up after a certain number of battles.
Gear works a lot differently. There aren’t discrete weapons and armor. Your class determines what sort of weapons and armor you’re good with, but there aren’t big lists.
You can only have a set number of magical items, based on your level. Oh yeah, and they’re all sentient. And I mean, I guess you can have more than your level, but bad stuff happens. Sometimes bad stuff is fun, right?
There’s no grid. The game has its own system for determining who’s close, who can reach who and when someone provokes. It benefits from a map for positioning and to put people on the same page, but there’s no square-counting.
Of course, the real stuff that makes 13th Age special are in its story-focused mechanics.
Your One Unique Thing tells everyone what’s special about you, and only you.
Backgrounds replace skills and proficiency, and tell us who you are and what you’re good at.
Relationships help ground you in the world and let us know what Icons you’re interested in.
The Escalation Die helps provide a sense of pacing, momentum and tension to the fight, as well as providing a bit of tactical texture.